Tuesday, August 9, 2011

1.2 The pain caused by the good fortune of others

Would you buy haute couture from this man?

Paul: A little over a decade ago, I assistant directed a production of Pippin.  Our production was a reboot of the musical into the world of high fashion.  The entire cast was gorgeous and well dressed, all lissom and lithe young dancers if memory serves.  I looked like what I looked like: 

I had my copy of the script for the show in one of those binders in which you can slide your own cover image.  

Mine was a picture of model John Koviak from a Propaganda Magazine calendar (who, back in the 1990s, looked not unlike a goth Austin Scarlett. See above.)  This was back in my goth period.  I remember the director noticing it one day and asking me, "Is that what you wish you looked like?"  And I was a little surprised because I hadn't realized that the answer was "yes."

I'm better now.  Learning about the laws of entropy helped.  The laws of entropy state that you will never again look as good as you look now.  I have a theory that keeping that in mind is the trick to looking good in photographs.  Anyway, I now have a much more healthy and embracing self-image, but, boy oh boy, if you think I'm a mess of maladjustment now, you should have seen me then!  So there you go.  My own male beauty image scale on loan from Oscar Wilde. [Laurie: You know you can never mention Oscar Wilde without making me think of Jeeves, and the guy from Tears for Fears, right?]

Paul: The theme of this week's design challenge was: Envy.  Yes, we live in a society whose economic system is based upon coveting.  Yes, the unfettered avarice may finally be pushing our nation to have more in common with Greece than just democracy. But I'm going to breeze past the possible objections from people who would bring up the Madison Avenue-perpetuated culture of conspicuous consumption by crying "Art!"

Laurie:  Good call, Paul.  I remember the just-short-of-heated conversation we had at the beginning of The Devil Wears Prada....or was it The September Issue? Well, whichever, the argument discussion could as easily have come up in either case. I began both just disgusted by the fuss being made over what I consider trivialities, and most particularly the terrible way people are willing to treat one another for the sake of mere fashion. Now, don't get me wrong, I still find that sort of thing ridiculously offensive. Humans are infinitely more valuable than the clothes on their backs, and should never, ever, be valued by them or mistreated for the sake of them. However, in seeing the films through, and, of course listening oh so calmly (wink) to the somewhat different perspective offered by Paul, I was able to see some of the positive aspects of the world of haute couture, among them the fact that the industry employs many, many people at various socio-economic levels, among them many wonderful artists, and that last bit is to Paul's point.  High fashion, at its best, is art. It promotes creativity and celebrates beauty. And for that reason Paul and I  find it worthy of our attention. Now, as you were saying, Paul?

Paul:  It was The September Issue because I remember when we watched The Devil Wears Prada you shot me a look when the Anna Wintour character in that one essentially makes my same argument.  But back at good old Project Runway, our designers are given cotton [Laurie: in a not so subtle product placement I might add] Paul: and just about everything else they could possibly use to assemble an outfit which somehow deals with the topic at hand.  I found the results surprising.

In a bit of a twisted joke, there is a surprise aspect of the contest.  The completed outfits are vanned with their cotton-pickin' designers to an upscale boutique where they are to attempt to sell their outfits off the rack to the sort of people who are permitted inside upscale New York fashion boutiques.  [Laurie:  I should probably interject here that the sale was in the form of an auction. The designer who won the highest bid would be declared the winner of this episode's challenge.]  Paul: Of course, the designers were focusing on art projects while those outside of the context of the show are more likely looking for clothes to actually wear.  Jay's bizarre personal fashion choice for that day (see topmost photo) may have handicapped him in this portion of the contest.

Laurie:  Yeah, Jay.  To be fair, he, like the rest of the contestants, did not get up that morning expecting to be hawking his wares at an auction in an upscale boutique, and so his personal appearance left a lot to be desired. His hair hung loose. He wore little beard, and a sweatshirt with a Sacred Heart on the front . He joked about looking like Jesus and proceeded to refer to himself throughout his presentation as "Jay-sus".  I did my level best, as a Christian, not to be offended.  It's a secular world after all. But it grated on me.  And apparently it wasn't only me. The shop's clientele seemed just about as uncomfortable as they might be if approached by a pushy street evangelist on Times Square. Jay-sus was off-putting on a number of levels. Beyond that, his creation was strange. The mannequin could not pull it off.  It wasn't until it wrapped a living and walking model that his concept began to make any kind of visual sense.  It was clearly a product of a man who would play "Jay-sus" in an expensive boutique. Interesting, creative, quirky, but limited in its marketability.
Paul:  One of the more interesting outfits was made by the young man with cornrows whose name I didn't bother to memorize as I expect he'll be out of my life within about 4 episodes.  He chose penis envy and dressed the model in a pantsuit, complete with Freudian cigar.  This was really, in my opinion, our first introduction to gender issues in the course of this show, but I'm going to let it go for the moment because I seriously doubt it shall be the last time we have occasion to talk about gender.  And this is decidedly a post about envy, so we're just mentioning it in passing to remind you that it is a concept that exists.  You can think about it on your lunch break and we'll all come back and talk about it later.

Laurie:  The nameless one's name is Robert. I know that because I looked it up.

Paul: For all I know, that could be true.

Laurie:  I have to admit, I did not come away from these first episodes remembering any of the designer's names, only their creations.  I was clearly more impressed with his design than you were, Paul. The episode is actually titled "Vision" (I know because I looked that up too).  I must say, his vision of envy would never have occurred to me, but I really liked his finished product....I hope that isn't some kind of Freudian revelation of my own character.  It was a svelte pantsuit: a vest with no blouse beneath, but an ascot tied around the neck, and exaggerated pin-striped pants which swung handsomely as the model walked. I didn't notice a cigar, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one. I tried and failed to find a picture to post here.

Paul: Austin and Wendy Pepper made Neil Gaiman-esque personifications of Envy.

Laurie:  Austin's vision in this one was less than inspired, in my opinion. But then, he doesn't come across as an "envy" kind of guy. So perhaps it's to his credit.

Paul: You know, I liked it on the rack, but not on the runway.  It had a Maleficent from Disney's Sleeping Beauty quality to it that, I'm afraid, retained too much of that cartoonishness when placed on the model.

Laurie: Good point. You're right. Now that you mention it, that is exactly what that dress resembled! As for Wendy, well, we didn't mention her in our discussion of Episode 1. Though she is a middle-age-ish mommy, who should have known better on at least two levels, her grocery store challenge in the first episode yielded a bunch of candy strung together just tightly enough to barely cover the critical parts of her model, with lollipops bonking her pelvic area with each step. The judges were not impressed and neither was I, but that obnoxiously self-confident guy performed even worse and saved her from being the first person ever eliminated from Project Runway.

Paul:  A distinction that that guy assiduously earned.

Laurie: Indeed!  This time around I didn't think her design was bad.  Though it was a weak effort at a personification of envy, but I did think it had a lot of potential as a dress. But that really was the key word: potential.  The dress looked like it was an afternoon's sewing away from being finished.  The judges noticed.  There's a lot more that could be said about Wendy's performance, but I think I'll save it for another time. For now all that matters is that hers was once again not the worst in the pack, and so we'll be seeing her again.

Also, I really can't not mention the "envy is a cancer" dress developed by designer Starr, whose non-reality series job is as an attorney. The looks on the faces of the shop patrons when she explained that the bulbous red-petalled object over the left breast of the gown was not a flower, but a tumor, was a priceless moment of video. To be sure, fashion-as-social-statement does have a useful place in this world - ask Lady Gaga - but, unfortunately for Starr, Project Runway is not that place; neither was that little up-scale New York boutique.  Envy can certainly be a cancer, but it does not inspire the kind of envy the average gown-buying woman might be looking to inspire when she dresses for a an evening out.

Paul:  But the winning outfit went to designer Kara Saun (and rightly so, I think) who brought the moral compass.  It's a soldier's uniform to illustrate how envy leads to greed which leads to war and destruction. 

Source: http://www.tomandlorenzo.com

Envy is rooted in discontent and, indeed, is unsustainable.  It is a serpent that eats its own tail which (at the risk of leaning toward a political statement) is why it's a stone dumb basis for an economic system.  It is also a universal lowest common denominator.  In other words, coveting is a hard drug to kick.

As for what we, as in Laurie and I, envy, it's not like it used to be for me.  I'm a little horrified at the idea of looking like John Koviak now.  There are not a lot of nouns that I envy, and I live pretty close to the lifestyle that I want to live.  Although I do have twinges here and there when I hear about how a friend of mine from college is now teaching theater workshops, but then I know that he is jealous that I live in a place where I can paint the walls and own a dog.  Serpent tail: It's a serpent's favorite dish!

I do feel a little envious of people who find peace in their religious faith.  For some, at least viewed from an outsider's point of view, their religious faith seems like a cool, refreshing drink of water on a hot day.  For me, my religious faith is more like chemotherapy or a milliner working with mercury. 
Which is probably a healthy thing to envy as it is a good standard toward which I aspire, that of grasping internal peace over my existential condition..  I don't know.  Is it healthy to envy healthy things?

Laurie:  Wow, that was an unexpected turn! Your commentary, I mean, not the winner of the challenge, which I agree seemed appropriate.  I also agree that it is right to covet what it is right for you to have.  There is nothing righter than to hunger after the one thing that can truly satisfy.  Not to dicker over words, because I know exactly what you mean, but in my experience of our religion, that one thing is a Person, not the religion we build up around Him. I have deep confidence that you will find peace there, and that to a certain extent, you already have. It is you, after all, who has spoken words of hope and peace during the dark nights of my own soul's chemo and Mad Hatter moments.

Paul:  So, what do you envy, Laurie?  Come on.  I gave.  We can all stand to work on ourselves here and be reflective.

Laurie:  Alright, I'll give.  I'd like to think that the little green monster never bites me, but that's not really true.  I'd have to say, my greatest temptations toward envy come from a couple of places: people who have a University education, and people who make their living solely from creating art - writers, painters, musicians, etc.

No comments:

Post a Comment